Texas Congressman and Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul made national news last week, surprising political analysts and his rivals when he reported raising $5.08 million in the third quarter. While the total amount raised by Paul’s campaign is still small compared to the coffers of the top four seeking the GOP nomination, Paul was the only candidate – Democrat or Republican – to double the amount of money raised over the previous quarter.
Those numbers suggest Paul’s nascent campaign is picking up momentum. A similar indicator could be found last Saturday at the Flathead County Library in Kalispell, where nearly 50 people crowded into a hot, basement room to share their support for Paul, figure out how to improve organization, and discuss how to spread the message of the anti-war, libertarian candidate.
Make no mistake. This was not some fringe meeting of Flathead anti-government, ultra-right wing, crusty old dudes. The crowd included men in their 20s with ponytails and goatees, young mothers bouncing babies on their hips, a leader of the Flathead Valley Community College Republicans, and a state senator.
“There’s a malaise across the country; people are fed up with politics, they don’t trust the government,” said Sen. Aubyn Curtiss, R-Fortine, attending a Ron Paul meeting for the first time. “I feel about Ron Paul the way I felt about Ronald Reagan.”
The difference between Paul and Reagan, of course, is that Paul is – at this early stage – unlikely to nab the GOP nomination, a point his fans in Kalispell are unwilling to concede. Sitting after the meeting, Curtiss pondered that for a moment, and the effort she once expended in her prior position as state party chair, getting constituents behind the frontrunner candidate.
“For years, we’ve said ‘You have to support so-and-so, because so-and-so could win,’” she said. “I wonder, I think it might be time to rethink that.” Referring to current GOP presidential frontrunners, Curtiss was unimpressed with what she sees as a dearth of ideas.
“If a candidate is holding himself up as the only one who can beat Hillary (Clinton) within the party, then they don’t have much to offer,” she added. “That’s pretty lame.”
Curtiss’s sentiments were shared by many who attended the meeting, Republicans who say they are disillusioned with the Iraq war and the rampant spending and expansion of the federal government under GOP leadership for the last seven years. Sen. Jerry O’Neil, R-Columbia Falls and Ronan Rep. Rick Jore of the Constitution party endorse Paul. Paul’s supporters say he is the only true conservative in the bunch. Many say they will write Paul in on the ballot in the general election if he doesn’t receive the GOP nomination. Paul has said he will not run as a third party candidate.
Among the few Congressional Republicans who opposed the Iraq war, Paul often makes headlines during and after debates, sparring with GOP frontrunners and conservative commentators like Sean Hannity. While his general poll numbers remain low, Paul wins numerous straw polls and possesses widespread grassroots support on the Internet. According to Jeff Greenspan, the Western Regional coordinator for Paul, $1.2 million of his third-quarter funds were raised in the last week of the quarter through online donations – not fundraisers. There are 975 Ron Paul support groups with 45,602 members on the social networking Web site Meetup.com as of this writing. Hillary Clinton has 29 meetup groups with 960 members; Rudy Giuliani has one meetup group with five members. Still, participants at Saturday’s meeting questioned why more people weren’t aware of Paul and his positions.
“Even my pastor doesn’t know about Ron Paul,” said Blake Johnson, an FVCC college Republican leading Saturday’s meeting. “Ron Paul would have all the Christian support if they only knew who he was.”
The talk turned to the lack of Paul endorsements by Christian groups like Focus on the Family, and gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association, whose interests, the meeting’s participants said, were best represented by Paul.
“The NRA has sold out; they’re so compromised,” said one man. “The NRA called me, I said if they would start supporting candidates like Ron Paul, Montanans would start supporting the NRA again.”
Paul ran for president in 1988 as the Libertarian party nominee. He supports a non-interventionist foreign policy and advocates withdrawal from Iraq. He favors such bulwarks of conservativism as free trade, lowering taxes, shrinking the federal government and has never voted for a tax increase in his 10 terms in Congress. He also favors withdrawing from NATO and the United Nations (one man at the meeting wore a pin with the UN logo and a slash through it).
A woman asked where Paul stood on immigration. Johnson replied that Paul opposed the recent immigration bill in Congress and supports building a fence along the border. Paul also wants to revoke birthright citizenship for the children of illegal aliens, added another attendee.
Most at the meeting nodded in assent when Johnson declared himself anti-abortion. Paul has said he supports addressing abortion at the state, not federal, level.
In an interview after the meeting, Johnson said the only area in which he did not agree with Paul was the death penalty, which Paul opposes and Johnson supports. “He’s helping me evolve my position,” Johnson said. “He is actually adding to my politics because I trust that man.”
But while talk at the meeting concerned some policy positions, the brunt of discussion dealt with regulations concerning everything from fundraising to posting signs to building a float for the Kalispell Christmas parade. Confusion ensued over whether it was legal to put a Ron Paul sign on the inside or outside of a window, and whether those rules changed if the sign was visible from a highway. It was generally agreed that the group needed its own Web site to stay abreast of events, but no one stepped forward to build the site. One person suggested handing out business card-sized Paul brochures to trick-or-treaters on Halloween.
Talk also turned to the Paul “Revolution” signs that blanketed downtown Kalispell two weeks ago. Johnson said the Ron Paul meet-up group – which is composed of volunteers and is not affiliated with Paul’s campaign – did not hang the signs; they were part of a Web movement, “paintthetownron.com,” which urged people across the country to hang Paul signs Sept. 29.
The meeting began and ended with a prayer, though as things wrapped up and people began leaving, Johnson hastily gave thanks as the Paul supporters filed out into the hallway.
Joe Swenson, 30, was pleased with the meeting and thinks the group needs to find a bigger place. Like most interviewed, he said he would not vote for anyone but Paul.
“Voting for somebody else is just letting the system perpetuate itself,” he said, looking around the room. “This is pretty neat, actually; we could actually make a difference.”
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